Do you really need to buy winter tires?

By: Dominic Licorish on December 8, 2017
Article image

No matter how you look at it, owning a car costs a lot of money, and if you feel like your wheels are burning through your bank account, you may start to question whether changing your tires in winter is actually worth the money.

Canadians know winter well. Depending on where you look, we have some of the longest, coldest winters in the world. With less than a month left in the year, Canadians across the country are already taking the necessary precautions against the cold. For most drivers that means slapping on their winter tires.

But there are still many who think winter tires are a waste of money.

Last year, our own study concluded that three in 10 drivers believe winter tires are nothing more than a cash grab, while approximately the same amount admitted that they weren’t going to install winter tires.

Are winter tires really a cash grab? Short answer: no. Go buy some and put them on your car if you haven’t already. However, if you’re still skeptical, here’s a crash course on how winter tires work and why they’re worth their cost.

Why winter tires really do make your car stop faster

People who drive on all-season tires all year insist that they do just fine and that winter tires don’t make a significant difference in the real world. The truth of the matter is that they probably make the biggest real-world difference when it comes to cold-weather driving — even more so than whether that car is all-wheel drive or not.

Tires are the only part of a car that touches the road, and as such, play a huge role in pretty much every aspect of driving there is. Everything from acceleration, handling, and yes, braking, is affected by how the tire grips the road.

Compare car insurance quotes

The quoter allows you to compare car insurance rates from more than 20 providers in your province. The best part? It's free.

Get started

While the benefits of superior grip are less noticeable when driving at lower speeds one encounters in urban areas, winter tires can make a dramatic difference in controlling your car on the highway, and especially in an emergency situation. Winter tires have been proven to cut a car’s stopping distance in half at higher speeds in road tests. They also improve handling in cold weather both in and out of severe or slippery conditions.

This is all because of two major differences between winter tires and all-seasons: deep tread patterns and softer rubber. Deep treads help improve grip on snow and ice while softer rubber works better in the cold than their all-season counterparts. In fact, even on a dry road, winter tires will grip the road better once temperatures dip below 7 C, and so it’s at that temperature that experts recommend you make the switch. No need to wait until it actually snows.

Classifying winter tires

There are only a few things you need to keep in mind when looking at winter tires, and most dealerships and mechanics will have professionals ready to make recommendations based on your needs. It’s always nice to walk into a store with an idea of what you’re looking for though, so here’s the breakdown.

First thing’s first, you have to make sure the tire in question is actually a winter tire. Luckily for you, the Rubber Association of Canada sets the standard for severe snow and low temperature performance tires. If a tire has the Three-Peak Mountain Snowflake Symbol (pictured below) on its sidewall, you’re in the right neighbourhood.

Now let’s take a closer look at each type of winter tire.

Regular non-studded winter tires

Chances are these are what you’re going to need. They provide better grip in most winter driving scenarios, including when you’re on ice.

  • Aggressive tread design to push away snow and slush
  • Designed for temperatures below 7°C
  • Excels on soft snow while providing good performance on hard-packed snow and ice

Studded winter tires

For most people, studded tires are overkill, but they provide the ultimate grip on ice and heavy snow.

  • Metal studs to dig into ice and snow in addition to heavy tread design to push away snow and slush
  • Designed for temperatures below 7°C
  • Excels on soft snow while providing good performance on hard-packed snow and ice

All-weather tires

All-weather tires are distinct from all-season tires, as they are rated for  

  • Tread design to push away snow and slush
  • Designed for temperatures above and below 7°C
  • Excels on soft snow while providing good performance on hard-packed snow and ice

Now that you have the basics down, you’ll need to do some research and pick the right tires for your vehicle. In Canada there’s no shortage of outlets to pick up a set of tires, though some are a little more costly than others.

Save lives and money with winter tires

Winter tires are an expense, but they don’t have to be expensive. Many auto insurance providers actually offer discounts for using winter tires, though the size of it varies driver to driver.

There are also great deals to be had by buying used winter tires, especially if you don’t need to drive very far on a regular basis.

Using all-season tires during winter is dangerous, not just for you, but others on the road. The money you save by not paying for a tire change is going to seem a lot more trivial when having to pay for repairing your car after an accident.